Ice Classic offers scientific data
ANCHORAGE - For 84 years, winter-weary Alaskans have amused themselves every spring by placing bets on when the ice on the Tanana River will break up. Now those years of data have helped climate researchers conclude that spring is arriving earlier.
The study by Stanford University scientists, published in last week's issue of the journal Science, relied on records from the Nenana Ice Classic, an annual guessing game held in the community 230 miles north of Anchorage.
The contest was started in 1917 by engineers building a railroad bridge over the Tanana. Because ice halted construction, the idle engineers bided their time by placing bets on when the ice would break up.
Now a wooden tripod is placed on the ice and is hooked up to a clock onshore. Those who come closest to guessing the exact time and date when the ice breaks and the tripod moves downriver share a jackpot that has grown to more than $300,000 in recent years.
Stanford marine biologist Raphael Sagarin learned of the contest while doing research in Alaska last year.
"I immediately thought this might be a great record of climate change. It turns out to be really good, accurate data," said Sagarin, who co-wrote the study with Stanford biology professor Fiorenza Micheli.
The researchers discovered that, on average, the Tanana River breakup is occurring 5.5 days earlier in recent years than it did in 1917. The findings are in line with historic temperature data from Nenana and Fairbanks, about 40 miles away.
The study did not address what might be behind the change.
Group suing to start new party
JUNEAU - An activist is suing the state to create a party for the traditionally large segment of Alaskans whose political persuasion is "none of the above."
The Non-Partisan Party would appeal to the more than 230,000 voters who don't consider themselves Democrat or Republican or a member of the four other recognized parties in the state, said the group's founder, Bob Allen.
The Non-Partisan Party believes all issues and candidates should be examined without regard to political affiliation. It rejects the "Republican dogma" of conservative social issues that don't belong in government as well as the "tax and spend" policies of Democrats, Allen said.
Allen filed a lawsuit in Anchorage Superior Court after the state Division of Elections rejected efforts to form the party in 1999. State officials said a party has to be made up of willing members.
At the time of the filing, there were 82,958 registered voters in Alaska who checked the "non-partisan" box on their voter registration forms. The Non-Partisan Party argued in court papers that these were its members.
"Those voters as far as we know are registered as non-partisan because they don't affiliate themselves with any political party," said Sarah Felix, assistant attorney general.
To gain official party status, the group has to number at least 6,605 registered voters or field a gubernatorial candidate who takes 3 percent of the votes in the 2002 election, said Janet Kowalski, director of the Division of Elections.
Allen said the party intends to petition for candidates on the Nov. 5 general election ballot. The party also hopes to win the lawsuit, allowing it to be on the Aug. 27 primary ballot.
The case is scheduled for trial in February.